Western Courier

Spurs move on without Ginobli

Michael Harms, Courier Staff

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With the retirement of one of the most fantastic NBA players of all time, one of the NBA’s most prestigious organizations leaves fans asking who will continue their legacy.

San Antonio Spurs legend Manu Ginobili announced his retirement earlier this week, meaning that the last of the Spurs most notable stars who was part of the 2014 title run, are gone and leaves doubt in the air about who will continue the Spurs attitude.

This attitude, or lack thereof, started over 20 years ago in 1996, when the Spurs hired Golden State assistant coach Greg Popovich. He immediately started rebranding the Spurs to what we now know as icy cold, silent but amazingly competitive. One of the first steps in this process was trading hot-shot loud mouth Dennis Rodman and what we now know was not a healthy relationship according to Rodman.

“He hated my guts because I wasn’t a Bible guy. They looked at me like I was the devil.” Rodman said.

Well after he left San Antonio he helped the Bulls to a second three-peat with Chicago Bulls.

Popovich has a certain attitude. You may call it cold, short and grumpy, but what I like to call business like. He has a one-track mind; find a way to win. Everything else is simply a side-show he would rather ignore because they don’t help the team win. That attitude has led the man to five championships, and a near 70 percent win record. With three coach of the year awards and only one losing season, he has earned himself into the hall of fame, and in the discussion for best coach in NBA history behind Phil Jackson.

However, it was the players that embodied the environment Popovich required and it changed the Spurs forever. Popovich’s first draft pick was none other than Tim Duncan in 1997 and they never looked back. In Duncan’s second year he averaged a double-double with 21.7 points per game and 11.4 rebounds per game and an astounding 2.5 blocks. Not to mention him and coach Popovich won the NBA finals and Duncan won the NBA finals MVP in the 1998-1999 season.

What made Duncan so different from other NBA rookies, especially the ones we see today, is his attitude. Quiet, kept to himself and almost never trash talked. He was unbelievably respectful and one of the most diligent players to be in the NBA. Even his most famous quote showcases that attitude.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is best.” Duncan said.

This was the attitude Pop demanded from his players.

Popovich continued to confidently run the Spurs with a quiet and determined demeanor with players that mirrored that behavior, but with just a more willingness to talk to the press when asked. In the 2001 draft, the Spurs selected PG Tony Parker. In the following year they drafted guard Manu Ginobili, and thus the big three was born. Before Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce with the Celtics, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and Lebron James with the Heat, the first dominant big three showed up in San Antonio.

They did not talk like any of those other groups of players I mentioned, they didn’t create feuds, or locker room attractions, or any distractions from the action on the court. And this scheme worked too. In their first five years they won three championships, and Duncan brought in two MVP awards all without causing issues with their attitudes or big mouths. Popovich continued to be harsh to the press and the players continued to have un-broken focus on the ultimate goal of winning night in and night out.

As the Spurs big three started to age a young new-comer came along and light up the court. In 2011, Kawhi Leonard came in and continued to follow along with the no nonsense, quiet demeanor with no distraction.

They then won another championship in 2014 defeatin James, Wade and Bosh with a big three that started their dynasty by flapping their mouths claiming they would win up to eight championships.

The Spurs organization has been presented as an ice cold, emotionless well-oiled machine. We could claim that this type of organization is common and that many teams attempt to quiet their star players from making noise in the sports pages with outrages claims or creating on court feuds. However, in recent events we can now understand that Popovich has created an environment where you either fall in line or leave.

Meanwhile superstar Leonard created a side show last year in the NBA and left doubt about the relationship with the Spurs organization. With an apparent injury, he did not play the majority of the season despite team doctors opinion. His inner circle and his personal doctors would not communicate with the Spurs organization and caused a side show about the relationship with Leonard and the team.

We found out that he had no interest playing in San Antonio and wanted to be traded, but his actions led to a certain departure with the Spurs and harsh comments from teammates and Popovich alike. His pre-Madonna attitude and off-court sideshow earned him a ticket to Portland for a Demar Derozan blockbuster trade.

Now as the first big three are now gone and Leonard leaving the Spurs for unknown reasons, the remaining players that must replicate Popovich’s cold, deadly, prolific recipe and compete in the western conference with the star-studded Warriors, and James and the Lakers.

The candidates are LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray and of course Derozan. Before San Antonio Aldridge was a hot-blooded young talent in Portland tearing it up. He cooled off almost immediately in San Antonio in both production and attitude. Last year’s numbers were similar to those in Portland and earned him a trip to the all-star game, and led his team to a playoff spot, but an early exit in the first round.

Will he be able to bring back a star center talent and fill Tim Duncan’s shoes? Maybe. He leaves us doubts like his playoff performance in 2016 where he earned a temporary nickname of LaMarcus “Smalldridge.” His play needs to be more consistent, but most importantly he needs to be the man come playoff time.

Murray, being his only second year, will look to fall into the blueprint Pop gives him, which means another silent, fundamental player who will turn into a star sooner than later.

Derozan has the talent, obviously, but will he fall in line? If not Derozan will probably be turned for draft assests, but I believe Popovich will show him the golden brick road to the finals. Getting past the Warriors with a starting five consisting of Murray, Derozan, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol and Aldridge. It may seem impossible, but I would not put anything out of reach for Popovich.

Popovich constantly brings the best out of his roster, and this year will not be any different. Eyeing a return to the playoffs and a shot at playing the Warriors in the playoffs will show the world how amazing Popovich truly is. Starting out by creating an environment of cold, quiet, and only focused on winning the Larry O’Brian trophy, and having a coaching style of fundamental, basic, perfect basketball.

Popovich will prove to the world that despite losing four hall of fame athletes his coaching will instill a winning culture that nobody else can replicate.

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Spurs move on without Ginobli